Chapter 13: Wheelbarrow.
Next morning, Monday, after disposing of the embalmed head to a barber,
for a block, I settled my own and comrade's bill; using, however, my
comrade's money. The grinning landlord, as well as the boarders, seemed
amazingly tickled at the sudden friendship which had sprung up between
me and Queequeg--especially as Peter Coffin's cock and bull stories
about him had previously so much alarmed me concerning the very person
whom I now companied with.
We borrowed a wheelbarrow, and embarking our things, including my own
poor carpet-bag, and Queequeg's canvas sack and hammock, away we went
down to "the Moss," the little Nantucket packet schooner moored at the
wharf. As we were going along the people stared; not at Queequeg
so much--for they were used to seeing cannibals like him in their
streets,--but at seeing him and me upon such confidential terms. But we
heeded them not, going along wheeling the barrow by turns, and Queequeg
now and then stopping to adjust the sheath on his harpoon barbs. I asked
him why he carried such a troublesome thing with him ashore, and
whether all whaling ships did not find their own harpoons. To this, in
substance, he replied, that though what I hinted was true enough, yet
he had a particular affection for his own harpoon, because it was of
assured stuff, well tried in many a mortal combat, and deeply intimate
with the hearts of whales. In short, like many inland reapers
and mowers, who go into the farmers' meadows armed with their own
scythes--though in no wise obliged to furnish them--even so, Queequeg,
for his own private reasons, preferred his own harpoon.
Shifting the barrow from my hand to his, he told me a funny story about
the first wheelbarrow he had ever seen. It was in Sag Harbor. The owners
of his ship, it seems, had lent him one, in which to carry his
heavy chest to his boarding house. Not to seem ignorant about the
thing--though in truth he was entirely so, concerning the precise way in
which to manage the barrow--Queequeg puts his chest upon it; lashes it
fast; and then shoulders the barrow and marches up the wharf. "Why,"
said I, "Queequeg, you might have known better than that, one would
think. Didn't the people laugh?"
Upon this, he told me another story. The people of his island of
Rokovoko, it seems, at their wedding feasts express the fragrant water
of young cocoanuts into a large stained calabash like a punchbowl; and
this punchbowl always forms the great central ornament on the braided
mat where the feast is held. Now a certain grand merchant ship once
touched at Rokovoko, and its commander--from all accounts, a very
stately punctilious gentleman, at least for a sea captain--this
commander was invited to the wedding feast of Queequeg's sister, a
pretty young princess just turned of ten. Well; when all the wedding
guests were assembled at the bride's bamboo cottage, this Captain
marches in, and being assigned the post of honour, placed himself over
against the punchbowl, and between the High Priest and his majesty the
King, Queequeg's father. Grace being said,--for those people have their
grace as well as we--though Queequeg told me that unlike us, who at such
times look downwards to our platters, they, on the contrary, copying the
ducks, glance upwards to the great Giver of all feasts--Grace, I say,
being said, the High Priest opens the banquet by the immemorial ceremony
of the island; that is, dipping his consecrated and consecrating fingers
into the bowl before the blessed beverage circulates. Seeing himself
placed next the Priest, and noting the ceremony, and thinking
himself--being Captain of a ship--as having plain precedence over a
mere island King, especially in the King's own house--the Captain coolly
proceeds to wash his hands in the punchbowl;--taking it I suppose for a
huge finger-glass. "Now," said Queequeg, "what you tink now?--Didn't our
At last, passage paid, and luggage safe, we stood on board the schooner.
Hoisting sail, it glided down the Acushnet river. On one side, New
Bedford rose in terraces of streets, their ice-covered trees all
glittering in the clear, cold air. Huge hills and mountains of casks on
casks were piled upon her wharves, and side by side the world-wandering
whale ships lay silent and safely moored at last; while from others
came a sound of carpenters and coopers, with blended noises of fires and
forges to melt the pitch, all betokening that new cruises were on the
start; that one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a
second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for ever
and for aye. Such is the endlessness, yea, the intolerableness of all
Gaining the more open water, the bracing breeze waxed fresh; the little
Moss tossed the quick foam from her bows, as a young colt his snortings.
How I snuffed that Tartar air!--how I spurned that turnpike earth!--that
common highway all over dented with the marks of slavish heels and
hoofs; and turned me to admire the magnanimity of the sea which will
permit no records.
At the same foam-fountain, Queequeg seemed to drink and reel with me.
His dusky nostrils swelled apart; he showed his filed and pointed teeth.
On, on we flew; and our offing gained, the Moss did homage to the
blast; ducked and dived her bows as a slave before the Sultan. Sideways
leaning, we sideways darted; every ropeyarn tingling like a wire; the
two tall masts buckling like Indian canes in land tornadoes. So full of
this reeling scene were we, as we stood by the plunging bowsprit, that
for some time we did not notice the jeering glances of the passengers, a
lubber-like assembly, who marvelled that two fellow beings should be so
companionable; as though a white man were anything more dignified than a
whitewashed negro. But there were some boobies and bumpkins there, who,
by their intense greenness, must have come from the heart and centre of
all verdure. Queequeg caught one of these young saplings mimicking him
behind his back. I thought the bumpkin's hour of doom was come. Dropping
his harpoon, the brawny savage caught him in his arms, and by an almost
miraculous dexterity and strength, sent him high up bodily into the air;
then slightly tapping his stern in mid-somerset, the fellow landed with
bursting lungs upon his feet, while Queequeg, turning his back upon him,
lighted his tomahawk pipe and passed it to me for a puff.
"Capting! Capting!" yelled the bumpkin, running towards that officer;
"Capting, Capting, here's the devil."
"Hallo, _you_ sir," cried the Captain, a gaunt rib of the sea, stalking
up to Queequeg, "what in thunder do you mean by that? Don't you know you
might have killed that chap?"
"What him say?" said Queequeg, as he mildly turned to me.
"He say," said I, "that you came near kill-e that man there," pointing
to the still shivering greenhorn.
"Kill-e," cried Queequeg, twisting his tattooed face into an unearthly
expression of disdain, "ah! him bevy small-e fish-e; Queequeg no kill-e
so small-e fish-e; Queequeg kill-e big whale!"
"Look you," roared the Captain, "I'll kill-e YOU, you cannibal, if you
try any more of your tricks aboard here; so mind your eye."
But it so happened just then, that it was high time for the Captain to
mind his own eye. The prodigious strain upon the main-sail had parted
the weather-sheet, and the tremendous boom was now flying from side to
side, completely sweeping the entire after part of the deck. The poor
fellow whom Queequeg had handled so roughly, was swept overboard; all
hands were in a panic; and to attempt snatching at the boom to stay it,
seemed madness. It flew from right to left, and back again, almost
in one ticking of a watch, and every instant seemed on the point of
snapping into splinters. Nothing was done, and nothing seemed capable of
being done; those on deck rushed towards the bows, and stood eyeing the
boom as if it were the lower jaw of an exasperated whale. In the
midst of this consternation, Queequeg dropped deftly to his knees, and
crawling under the path of the boom, whipped hold of a rope, secured one
end to the bulwarks, and then flinging the other like a lasso, caught it
round the boom as it swept over his head, and at the next jerk, the spar
was that way trapped, and all was safe. The schooner was run into the
wind, and while the hands were clearing away the stern boat, Queequeg,
stripped to the waist, darted from the side with a long living arc of
a leap. For three minutes or more he was seen swimming like a dog,
throwing his long arms straight out before him, and by turns revealing
his brawny shoulders through the freezing foam. I looked at the grand
and glorious fellow, but saw no one to be saved. The greenhorn had gone
down. Shooting himself perpendicularly from the water, Queequeg, now
took an instant's glance around him, and seeming to see just how matters
were, dived down and disappeared. A few minutes more, and he rose again,
one arm still striking out, and with the other dragging a lifeless form.
The boat soon picked them up. The poor bumpkin was restored. All hands
voted Queequeg a noble trump; the captain begged his pardon. From that
hour I clove to Queequeg like a barnacle; yea, till poor Queequeg took
his last long dive.
Was there ever such unconsciousness? He did not seem to think that he at
all deserved a medal from the Humane and Magnanimous Societies. He only
asked for water--fresh water--something to wipe the brine off; that
done, he put on dry clothes, lighted his pipe, and leaning against the
bulwarks, and mildly eyeing those around him, seemed to be saying
to himself--"It's a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians. We
cannibals must help these Christians."